5 people in Thailand who taught me what sustainability means
Last year, I had a great opportunity to visit Plant With Purpose’s program in Northern Thailand. Our participants there aren’t Thai. They’re ethnic minorities, often refugees, who have faced a history of persecution.
They also rely on the surrounding forest for their livelihood and survival. Their ability to manage their ecosystem has been crucial for their ability to create a new future.
This weekend is Earth Day, which makes it a perfect time to share some of their stories. This community helped remind me how important environmental health is for people to thrive.
Na Kuh taught me that living sustainably creates freedom.
Na Kuh can remember a time when the timber industry made it difficult for her community to make their living from the forest. By organizing and learning forest management together, they were able to gain more authority from the Forestry Service.
“We have to protect the forest land by making fabric in the dry season. We plant trees into our forest so we have a community forest committee that walks around to check the forest. When you have good management from local people, the government people won’t come and disrupt you.
My dream is for nobody from this village to have to go out and work outside. We want to work together within the village and help each other. We don’t want to see people have to find outside labor and work like slaves.”
Malachi taught me that caring for the Earth means caring for people.
Malachi was born in Huay Lu Luang. As a child, he heard there were big trees in the village, but by the time he was born they were all gone.
“Without the forest there would be no people. Our village has an agreement for when we want to harvest firewood, but other communities nearby don’t have a management plan and this leads to trouble
Sustainability is like a good forest. Without a forest, we’d have to buy everything, like people in a city, if you need bamboo, you need to buy. If you need food you need to buy, but we can save up to 90% of our income with what we don’t need to buy. We need support in terms of capacity, knowledge, and education because the world keeps changing Without those, we don’t understand and it’s hard to live with the challenges that are coming.”
Ja U taught me that living sustainably is the way God intended for us.
Ja U works as an evangelist. He sees caring for the Earth is a spiritual practice.
“All is created by God, so you have to protect it and use it in a reasonable way. We need to be talking about where we can use it and how we can protect it. When we start protecting the forest, I think about the water for my rice field. Older people say without forest, you will run out of water and lose your farm.
The continued involvement of the capacity building meetings. We always have a village representative. God is in the center. Anything we start, we discuss and pray together. Our generation doesn’t know how to read and write, so we always meet and discuss together.”
Ee Ema taught me that sustainability includes culture and traditions.
Ee Ema’s community of Jah Su Pah was newer to Plant With Purpose’s program. They were still at the early stages of seeing their small village grow out of environmental degradation and poverty.
She let me know that as they developed, they planned to keep the traditions that made their culture unique.
“I am from another village, where I am the daughter of the chief. I am married to my husband. He stayed with us for ten years, then we moved back here to come to this village.
Anyone who can help us is invited to help make that happen. Sustainability is related to culture and traditions, keeping them. He says that sustainability is like when the father passes away, the children remain to carry on the work being done.”
Jah Cho taught me that sustainability isn’t an act of self-interest, but an act of Love for the generations that come after you.
Jah Cho moved to Thailand from China with his parents at an early age. They have since passed away. He has one son living in Huay Lu Luang, and other children and grandchildren in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or other cities.
“When we talk about sustainability, we need to talk about the past. If we don’t understand the past, we can’t look at the future. Sustainability means I will pass on land, farmland and cattle, but also knowledge to my children.”